September 27th, 2007

The Zombie

A deal with the devil, if you will.

September 26 -  For the comics community, it must have been a very frightening time when Atlas flared up, then died.  Not so much because of the publishers vs. publishers angle, but because of the battle lines that were drawn.  In the years just before this, the comics creating community was just that; a community.  They really were.  As Michael Netzer pointed out a week ago, being The Crusty Bunkers was just the best known manifestation of that community.  For years, the New York based comic book artists met for a party on the first Friday of every month.  Marvel artists, DC artists, and independent artists all got together every thirty days to talk shop, drink too much, and enjoy each other's company.  An Algonquin Round-Table of Comics, this group engaged each other in a way that not only sustained and advanced all involved, but their chosen medium as well.  There is even a story, re-told by Fred Hembeck in his blog some time ago, of The Crusty Bunkers attempting to track down the truth behind the book The Mothman Prophecies, which was popular at the time.  He wrote, in part -

...but I know for a fact, several of these young legends to be--who shall remain discreetly nameless--took off on a pilgrimage to West Virginia, with an itinerary that covered many of the sights and locations mentioned in Keel's book, including several spooky abandoned buildings. No, the Mothman was nowhere to be seen, but I DO recall word of a UFO sighting during the excursion! It's been many years since this saga was related to me, so the details are a bit hazy, but there you have it--the next time you look in a seventies era comic and see a credit line for "The Crusty Bunkers", pause for a moment and wonder, who amongst this group was under the spell of the Mothman when he inked those pages?...

While nothing is black and white in personal relationships, I think that it can be (and, in a moment, will be) argued that the Atlas fiasco was the wedge that eventually pushed these artists apart, in spite of their one-time closeness.  Although we now know that Atlas was a flash in the pan, their competition could not have foreseen that at the time.  All that they could see was that their usual talent pool had suddenly dwindled, with some of the better talents leading the charge.  Here was a real challenge, for the first time in decades, to the status quo of comics hierarchy; Business Guys on top, Editorial Guys just below that, and creators far, far below all of them.  Atlas wasn't offering to topsy-turvy this structure (as happened years later at Image), but they were elevating the artistic talents to at least the equals of the editorial talents.  The threat of this forced the other publishers to take drastic action, demanding exclusive deals with artists in exchange for the sorts of benefits that Atlas had offered.  A deal with the devil, if you will.  "Sure, you'll get more of the rights and concessions that stroke your ego, but we will own your very soul."  And, like any such deal, the devil always finds a way to make your choice a hell.  Exclusivity may not seem so bad, until you are given work that is beneath your talents, or, much worse, you're not given work at all.  So, the artists, many of them Crusty Bunkers, had to take sides.  Some stuck with Marvel, others with DC, some quit the comic book business altogether, and others put all of their eggs into the Atlas basket.  Howard Chaykin was in the latter camp.  He was even something of a defacto recruiter for Atlas, personally sniping talents from The Big Two's bullpens.  All too soon, however, he, and the other Atlas artists, learned that they had placed their bets on the wrong horse.  More later.  Here is your "Crusty Bunker" of The Day - Jack Abel!